For one of the stars of Free-Rain's Canberra premiere production of Legally Blonde, it was not quite a case of life imitating art. Jenna Roberts is no stereotypical "dumb blonde" : she's completing a PhD in environmental chemistry. She will play Paulette Bonafonte, the hairdresser and manicurist with romantic dreams who becomes the best friend of the show's heroine, Elle Woods (Mikayla Williams).
In the musical, based on the 2001 film, Elle is a California sorority president whose boyfriend Warner (Damon G.Wade) dumps her when he goes to Harvard University to study law, saying he wants someone more serious. Taking along her chihuahua Bruiser, she follows him but discovers the people are not very friendly and decides to change herself in order to fit in: no more dressing in pink, no more sorority girl attitudes – and no more blonde.
"She's introduced to Paulette when she decides she wants to become a brunette to impress Warner," Roberts said.
But there's more to these characters than meets the eye. Although they are different in some respects – Paulette is poor and has had a rough life, Elle is rich and more comfortable – both have good hearts and have been unlucky in love. Each helps the other on a journey of self-discovery. And Elle helps Paulette recover her beloved bulldog Rufus from her ex, Dewey (Zack Drury). There's plenty of colour, music and dancing in the show, which is being directed by former Canberran Derek Walker.
"It's an interesting story arc and a wonderful character journey,'' Roberts said.
And it's all set to a varied score – rock, pop, reggae and cheerleading chants.
Roberts said: "I'm definitely not a Paulette."
She completed an honours degree in science at the Australian National University then worked at Geoscience Australia before undertaking her doctorate with the ANU and CSIRO. She hoped to complete it by the end of the year and go on to work in either pure or applied science.
"Being in science, it's traditionally a male-dominated field, but it's changing and I'm really happy to see that,'' she said.
Roberts began acting in Canberra in 2004 while at university and has appeared in many plays and a few musicals. She won Canberra Area Theatre awards for her roles in Chicago and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
And she was very enthusiastic about her canine co-star in Legally Blonde, played by a bulldog named Mosey.
"He's gorgeous ... he seems to like everybody."
Legally Blonde is on at the ANU Arts Centre from July 4 to 27. Bookings: canberraticketing.com.au or 6275 2700. Dinner and show packages are available from Teatro Vivaldi on 6257 2718.